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A very loose (emphasis on the loose) modern Korean adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name, Little Women follows three close sisters who grew up in poverty as they suddenly find themselves up against the wealthiest family in South Korea. A critique on greed, corruption, and the country’s class system, it’s also the story of the heartwarming bond between siblings, much like in the book.
You may recognize Kim Go-eun, who starred in Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (aka Goblin); Nam Ji-hyun, who starred in 100 Days My Prince; Park Ji-hu, who starred in All of Us are Dead, and Wi Ha-joon, who starred in the megahit, Squid Game.
Little Women has been remade multiple times, but every time it’s pretty much exactly the same story. No one has attempted a modern-day version of the classic, but as this Korean series reveals, the core elements of the original story can be especially compelling set in a contemporary setting.
The series follows three of the sisters from the novel:
The oldest sister, Oh In-joo (Kim Go-eun), is a combination of Meg and Jo. She worries about supporting her two younger sisters, having grown up in poverty. She doesn’t have the best taste in men, however, and a major incident shakes up her life.
Oh In-kyung (Nam Ji-hyun) is the middle sister, a fierce journalist who refuses to be intimidated by money and power, and insists on doing what’s right. In-kyung struggles with a drinking problem, and when a mysterious case resurfaces from her early reporting days, she starts digging deep for the truth.
Finally, there’s In-hye (Park Ji-hu), the youngest daughter, who attends a prestigious arts school on a scholarship, and while she always appears calm, she hides simmering emotions under the surface.
The three sisters share a tight bond and have authentic chemistry on screen, and their relationships are at the heart of the show, just as it is in the novel and previous adaptations.
Another instrumental character is Jin Hwa-young (Choo Ja-hyun) is In-joo’s coworker and, as she calls it, fellow outcast in their snooty office. She’s an accountant for management and had a suspected affair with someone up high. She also shows In-joo the finer side of life, and leaves her with a huge surprise that serves as the catalyst for the rest of the season.
It’s a surprise that also serves as a commentary on South Korea’s wealth disparity, a popular topic that is being explored in multiple South Korean shows (Squid Game, anyone?). Yet, unlike the novel, the Oh sisters live in the 21st century and have more agency. They’re not afraid to stand up for themselves, and some of the most satisfying moments are watching them fight for what is theirs. At the same time, they must contend with some of the same moral quandaries faced by the original March sisters.
The supporting cast holds their own against the leading ladies. Kim Mi-sook stars as the sisters’ formidable and wealthy aunt, who has a complicated history with In-kyung. Meanwhile, her neighbor, Ha Jong-hoo (Kang Hoon) takes a liking to In-kyung. Since this is a K-drama, there has to be more than one swoonworthy man. This comes in the form of Choi Do-il (Wi Ha-joon), a “friend” of Hwa-young who plays a pivotal part in the central conflict.
It’s tricky to modernize a beloved classic, but Little Women makes the 19th century novel relevant and gives it international appeal, balancing the charm of the original with something that modern audiences prefer – a more tantalizing drama with an intriguing mystery that will keep you coming back for more.
Your friend or family member who lives for K-dramas. Since the series is TV-14, teenagers can watch as well, but it’s probably not ideal for younger children. The more mature themes may be a little too tricky to explain.
The top drama in Korea right now and in the top 10 in many countries around the world, the series is run by a majority-female team, which is rare anywhere, but especially in South Korea.
Where to find it: Netflix